You know, like mac ‘n’ cheese, minus the mac, plus the beans….

This recipe came about the way a lot of recipes come about these days — my daughter, Abby, walked into the kitchen, saw a pot of beans on the stove and said, “You know what would be really good? If you made beans the way you made mac and cheese.” And she was right. Partly. Because here’s the beauty of this dinner: The whole béchamel sauce thing that is usually so crucial to making mac and cheese? I skipped that part. The cream? Skipped that, too. The multiple pots and pans thing? Nope! This meal cooks in one pot. Its relation to mac and cheese lies mostly in the garlic-spiked crunchy topping and the peppery cheese mixed in with the beans — for me, the best version of mac and cheese always has a combination of sharp cheddar, gruyère, and Parm. And lots of pepper.

Here are a few ways you might like to deploy this recipe:

  • You are trying to convince a young (or not so young!) vegetarian to like beans
  • You have a macaroni and cheese obsessive in the house and would like to expand their horizons
  • You have odds and ends of cheese in the fridge that you’d like to use up — this recipe only calls for a single cup of cheese, significantly less than most mac and cheese recipes.
  • You need something on the table fast.

And lastly, you would like that something to taste excellent.

Beans ‘n’ Cheese
I served this with the simplest chopped tomato salad — basil, olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced red onion — but any simple green salad (and maybe a piece of crusty bread) would be fine.

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
4 1/2 cups (or 3 15-ounce cans) cooked white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shredded gruyère
1/2 shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme

Set oven to broil.

In a large oven-safe deep skillet set over medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, onions, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add beans, and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low, add gruyère and cheddar, and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

In medium bowl, mix together the panko with the garlic powder, Parm, remaining olive oil, and more salt and pepper. You want all the panko crumbs to be damp. Using your hands, top the beans with the panko mixture. It will feel like a lot of topping, but persevere. You’re going to want the crunch.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil 5 to 8 minutes until crumbs are golden brown. (Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.) Remove the skillet using an oven mitt — the handle will be very hot! Let rest for about 5 minutes to let it set.

Serve topped with fresh thyme.

P.S. Five-ingredient dinners and a smashed chickpea sandwich.